About the Festival
The annual Chariot festival (Rath Yatra) falls on the Aashaadha Shukla Paksha Dwitiya (second day in bright fortnight of Aashaadha month)i.e June/July is unique in the sense that the Lord comes out in the streets to meet with people of all caste, creed and communities, the other symbolism of oneness and universal brotherhood across all mankind given out by Lord Jagannath is through the ritual – Chera Pahara-(sweeping the chariots with water being sprinkled) where the king or Gajapati as he is known in Odisha sweeps the chariots and all-round the deities- there by giving a message that whether you are a king or a humble devotee- for the lord you are ONE.. The construction of the chariots coincides with the start of the auspicious day of Akshaya Trutiya – the start of the new agricultural season.
The Annual Ratha Jatra which attracts millions of devotees across the world is the mega event which has two very important and popular events that precedes it and all the three combine to give a glimpse into the Cult of Lord Jagannath.
Chandan Jatra – One of the festival is Chandan Jatra ( means sandalwood voyage) which precedes the Ratha Jatra is of special importance,a s its the day when the construction of the Chariots or Ratha’s start. The ritual which starts on the auspicious day of Akshaya Trutiya lasts for 42 days . It is the longest festival in terms of duration that is observed at Jagannath Temple, Puri. The festival is symbolic to the human behaviour as the summer season is at its peak and in the olden days people used sandalwood paste on their bodies to keep the heat at bay and of course water, similarly sandalwood paste is applied to the representatives of Lord Jagannath, Lord Balabhadra and Goddess Subhadra – Lord Madanmohan, Bhudevi and Sridevi along with the five shivlings known as the Pancha Pandavas (they are the Lokanath, Jameswara, Markandaya, Kapala Mochana and Nilakantha) taken out in procession to Narendra Tirtha Water Tank in decorated palanquin’s amidst musicians, dancers and devotees , then they are transferred to two swan shaped decorated boats – a red swan shaped boat and a white swan shaped boat and they enjoy the ride in the tank until dawn. This ritual goes on for 21 days and is called Bahara Chandan Jatra (literal meaning Sandalwood Voyage conducted outside the temple).
For the next 21 days the ritual is conducted inside the temple premise and is known as the Bhitara Chandan Jatra (Sandalwood Voyage conducted inside the temple premise). Apart from Puri, Chandan Yatra is observed in many parts of the state.
Origin of Chandan Jatra – though there are no exact dates, it is said that Lord Jagannath appeared in the dream of the then King of Utkal Indrayumna to smear his idol with sandalwood paste on the day of Akshaya Trutiya, However the Chandan Jatra or the voyage started much later. There are a couple of legends surrounding the construction of Narendra Tirtha Tank. One of them points to the construction of the tank during the reign of the Eastern Ganga Dynasty (11th century till 15th century)- wherein its said that King Narendra Dev of Ranpur had very good relations with the Gajapati of Puri, once he asked his revenue collector to plant a pumpkin seed and donate all the pumpkins produced from it to the Lord Jagannath Temple at Puri for Mahaprasad. Astonishingly the creeper grew over an area of 14 acre’s and produced loads of Pumpkins. Both the kings decided to construct a water tank out of the revenue generated from the pumpkins, it was named as Narendra Tirtha Tank which was meant to be used for daily chores by the people and also serve Lord Jagannath. From the historical perspective the dates point to somewhere between 14th -15th century. The madalapanji of Lord Jagannath mentions the Narendra Tirth Tank was constructed by Lakhaposa Narendra Mohapatra the minister of Ganga King Veer Narendra Dev.
However another account mentions that Narendra Dev was the brother of Gajapati King Kapilendra Dev, who died while defending his mother land. His grief stricken wife Kalindi Mahadevi renounced world pleasures and resided in a garden where she planted vegetable plants. Once the guru of royal family Babaji Govinda Das paid her a visit and gave her pumpkin seeds, which she planted. The magical creeper grew over an area of 14 acres and produced lots of pumpkins. The pumpkins were given to the temple for the preparation of Mahaprasad and soon became the talk of the town. Gajapati Kapilendra Deva accompanied by the royal guru Babaji Govinda Das came to meet Kalindi Mahadevi. There Babaji Gonda Das advised the King to build a water tank and name it after Narendra Deva. Gajapti heeded his advice and built a massive tank and named it Narendra Tirtha Tank. He also named one of the ghats as Kalindi ghat and also built 14 other ghats and named them after her sons. As per this legend the construction of the water tank can be put to 15th Century i.e Suryavamsi period.
So the Chandan Jatra started somewhere between 14th and 15th Century, probably the influence of Sri. Chanitanya Mahaprabhu in this festival can’t be ruled out.
As of today the Narendra Tirth Water Tank is spread over 8 acres. Earlier the water of the tank was sparkling clean due to intricate inlet and outlet channels to Madhupur river (over which the Atharanala Bridge stands). Now the water channels are clogged and more often than not the water is sullied. The tank is located 2 KM from the temple- from Grand road take the route to Dandimala sahi and get to the tank.
Moreover the actual representative of Lord Jagannath for the Chandan Jatra was Sri Govindadev- as described in Chaitanya Bhagabat ( Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s book on spirituality). However King of Bengal Pratapaditya took away Sri Govindadev to Raipur in West Bengal after annexing the Kingdom of Utkal some four hundred years ago. Since then Madanmohan is the representative of Lord Jagannath during the Chandan Yatra. King Pratapaditya was initially a Zamindar of Jessore and went on to rule over 24 North paragana, South Paragana and parts of Bangladesh.
Snana Purnima – The Snana Purnima festival commence on the month of Jestha (June). After their fun filled evenings for 42 days, on the full moon day Lord Jagannath celebrates his birthday.To mark the occasion, Lord Jagannath, Lord Balabhadra and Goddess Subdhadra are placed on a pedestal called “Snana bedi” outside the temple premises and bathed are bathed with 108 pots of heavily incensed water water drawn from the well of Goddess Sitala inside the Jagannath Temple premise.
The Snana Purnima ritual concludes with the Chehra Pahara (sweeping the Mandap with the golden broom) by the King of Puri,currently Gajapati Divyasingha Deva IV has been performing the ritual. After the Chehra Pahara ritual, the Holy Trinity are adorned with “Gaja or Hati Besha” (Elephant headgear).
It is believed that the holy trinity fall ill after the Snana Purnima and are indisposed for 2 weeks & during this time, they are out of bounds for devotees. They are only fed berries, roots, leaves & fruits – this is a reminder of the strong tribal influence in the genesis & evolution of the Jagannath cult. The first worshiper of Lord Jagannath is believed to be Biswabasu-the tribal chieftain.
Daitapatis – are servitors of Lord Jagannath. Their ancestry can be traced back to the progeny of Biswabasu’s daughter Lalita and Brahmin priest Vidyapati.
The Lords after recovering from their illness undertake the Ratha Jatra to their maternal aunt Goddess Gundicha Devi Temple.
It is imperative you reach Puri atleast a couple of days in advance for the Ratha Jatra to avoid being caught in traffic snarls.
The Ratha Jatra is held during the time when the summers ends and the rainy season begins in this part of the world and weather is humid.So carry enough liquids to keep you hydrated.
Odisha is known for heat stroke, so take necessary precautions.
If you are not feeling comfortable don’t hesitate to notify the cops or the volunteers on ground. They are proactive and escort you to safety.
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